Notes on paperbacking fabric using methyl cellulose

by Suw on March 11, 2012

For ages now I’ve been meaning to try the methyl cellulose (wallpaper paste) method of gluing backing paper on to fabric to make it suitable for bookbinding. Most fabric can’t be used un-backed because it’s too slippery to work easily with, it frays, and the glue will almost certainly bleed through thinner fabrics and ruin them. The way to deal with this is to adhere paper to the back of the fabric to provide a layer of protection between the fabric and the paste.

When I want to visit the Wyvern Bindery, they mentioned that they back fabrics using a heat set tissue, but so far I’ve been unable to find that online, and I’m not sure if it would work with a normal household iron anyway. I’ve experimented with backing paper using bookbinding paste, but it doesn’t adhere evenly leaving little bubbles of unglued fabric and the bond, even when dry, is weak so you can just tear the paper off.

For Argleton, I used archival spray mount, which is more even, doesn’t leech through if you don’t overdo it, and seems to adhere very well. Because it’s archival, it shouldn’t discolour the fabric. However, it does require a ventilated space and you get through a lot of waste paper.

So I thought I’d try this method, using methyl cellulose paste:

Having just tried it, I can promise you that it’s not as easy as he makes it look! I’ve learnt a few things through this morning’s experiment, so will share those points here as much for my own reference as anyone else’s!

1. He says to mix the methyl cellulose (MC) in a 1 part MC to 8 parts water ratio and let it sit for 20 minutes. Next time I will try 1:7 because it was very sloppy and wet, even after waiting for 20 minutes to let it all congeal.

2. MC goes hella lumpy if you’re not careful. Next time I will add the MC to the water, not the other way round.

3. I need a much higher quality paddle to apply the MC with.

4. A rolling pin wrapped in cling does an ok job, but I really need a proper rubber roller.

5. I used two thin Japanese papers around the 40 – 50gsm (annoyingly I’ve lost the note where I wrote down what they were), but they were both far too thin. The MC just soaked right through them and I very much doubt that they would provide much protection from paste.

6. The MC will pick up pigment from non-colourfast fabrics, so if you’re reusing the same batch to do multiple pieces of fabric, start with the lightest colours first.

7. It takes longer than a few hours to dry!

As for the results, the silk I backed has come out well with no marks despite the fact that I was worried the MC has soaked right through. I’ll see how it works up into a cover when pasted. However, it has no bubbles and has bonded fairly well, although if I really wanted to, I could probably rip the two layers apart.

The synthetic fabric I tried hasn’t bonded properly with the paper along one edge, so that’s going to have to be dealt with before I make it up into a cover. I suspect I didn’t use enough MC because I was worried it would ruin the fabric. Next time, I will use more. But other than that, it’s bonded without any bubbles or other problems. It has, however, curled horrendously which is quite annoying. Not sure if this is down to the fabric or the paper. More tests required!

I’ll update this post with photos soon!


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